Cate McCurry and James Ward, PA
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has refused to commit to the 100 per cent redress scheme being sought by homeowners affected by the mica scandal.
Mr Martin said a six-week process will be needed to analyse the issues caused by the mica scandal and to “iron out” issues with the redress scheme.
The Taoiseach's comments come as thousands of people gathered in Dublin for a protest demanding the increased redress scheme.
With the protesters gathered outside the Convention Centre, Mr Martin told the Dáil: “Our view is we should set in train a time-bound process, lasting about six weeks, involving the Mica Action Group, representatives from the different counties, involving the local authorities, and also the department to work on the scheme.”
Mr Martin described the scandal as “appalling” and “devastating” for the homeowners, however, he refused to commit to the 100 per cent redress being sought by campaigners.
Families living in crumbling homes were joined by supporters as they travelled from counties including Donegal, Mayo, Sligo and Clare to take part in the major protest.
Defective building blocks containing mica have caused cracks and fissures to open up in an estimated 5,000-6,000 homes primarily in the northwest of the country.
Dozens of buses arrived in Dublin earlier on Tuesday carrying protesters who then gathered outside the Convention Centre ahead of a planned march to Leinster House.
Meanwhile in the Dáil, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald welcomed the commitment to a time-bound process to address the issues with the redress scheme, first introduced in January 2020.
That scheme has left these families in misery, living this nightmare.
Sinn Féin is to table a motion calling for 100 per cent redress, urging the Taoiseach to make a commitment to it.
Ms McDonald said: “The last scheme may have been introduced in good faith, Taoiseach, but the truth is that scheme has not worked.
“That scheme has left these families in misery, living this nightmare, day after day, night after night, and that must stop.
“We know that the only sustainable viable redress is 100 per cent redress.”
Campaigners have criticised the existing 90 per cent redress scheme established by the Government ahead of the last election and are instead calling for 100 per cent of their costs to be met, with many of the homes facing demolition.
'Not as simple'
The Taoiseach responded to Ms McDonald's calls asking: “100 per cent of what? It’s not as simple as asserted.”
He added: “There’s a whole range of issues we’ve got to discuss, in terms of the grant caps themselves, in terms of the allowable costs, engineering costs, upfront costs, and how we can make it easier for the homeowners.
“That’s what we want to do.”
Mr Martin said Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien had consulted with the Mica Action Group and is anxious to get the process up and running “as quickly as possible”.
Ms McDonald repeatedly asked the Taoiseach during his response if he would commit to 100 per cent redress, which did not receive a response.
Addressing the Ceann Comhairle, she said: “I want to object to the Taoiseach studiously refusing to answer a very straightforward question.”
The Taoiseach noted that 33 per cent of homes affected will have to be rebuilt and the cost of the scheme is likely to exceed €1 billion, and he said there is a responsibility on designers and builders involved in the building of the homes.
Mr Martin added: “Generally speaking, we want to do the right thing by those who were let down by the provision of these defective blocks, which have rendered homes in many instances unliveable and has created great anxiety, and we’re going to do that.”
Later, the Taoiseach told Donegal TD Thomas Pringle that he had an issue “with certain people walking away from this”.
He said: “The State can’t forever be held accountable alone, in respect of behaviours or actions where others fell short, be it in the private sector or elsewhere.
“I wanted the Attorney General to examine that, not just for this Government but for the future governments and more importantly for taxpayers.
“I’m very clear about our role in helping the homeowner, but I think there’s a separate piece of work needed as well, to examine this in greater detail.
Among the protesters outside was Kenneth O’Connor from Carndonagh, Co Donegal, who told PA Media he bought his house in 2003 and around 2010 small cracks started to appear which have gradually got worse over time.
“Over the past year it’s just totally started to crumble, the foundations blocks are just gone basically, they’re just gravel,” he said.
Mr O’Connor said those affected by mica could not be treated liked “second-class citizens”.
“We are here to look for 100 per cent redress to fix our houses and sort out our crumbling blocks,” he added.
The Government has also acknowledged that mica issues may have affected other buildings, including community centres, schools and hospitals.
Kenneth O’Connor from Carandonagh in Co Donegal is among the thousands of people attending today’s protest calling for a 100% redress. He said his home is crumbling after it was built some 12 years ago. pic.twitter.com/yWBxtRLnaf
— Cate McCurry (@CateMcCurry) June 15, 2021
Campaigners have criticised the scheme for an upfront charge of €5,000 for access, failing to provide alternative accommodation and covering only 90 per cent of costs, compared to 100 per cent covered by the pyrite scheme, which also involved faulty materials resulting in damage to homes.
Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said: “I think Minister Darragh O’Brien is going to meet them and yes, he is already engaged and saying we are going to look at the redress scheme and see how we can make it work better.
“We all recognise that they do need and will get Government support and he is going to meet them today and will look at the arrangements.”
Social Democrat TD Cian O’Callaghan called for the Government to implement “stronger standards” on building materials.
He also welcomed the decision by the Government not to oppose the Sinn Féin motion seeking 100 per cent mica redress when it is debated in the Dáil later.
Mr O’Callaghan added: “We are going to be in the situation again where the taxpayer picks up the bill if the Government don’t act in terms of buildings standards and construction material standards.
“We need to have very strong standards put in place, very strong regulation and inspections.
“We are looking at over €1 billion for mica.
“It’s completely unacceptable that Government is operating this kind of wild west on building standards and materials and not implementing strong standards.”
People Before Profit TD Brid Smith said the mica redress should be paid for through taxes on the profits made on the defective homes and buildings.
Ms Smith added: “This is a crisis of epic proportions and it stems from the regulation, or lack of, over the building industry during the days of Bertie Ahern and the Celtic Tiger era.
“The state bears 100 per cent responsibility for it.
“We will be out with protesters. One of them described to me how their family homes are crumbling down around their ears and their houses may as well have been built by Weetabix rather than bricks and materials.
“Throughout the west, in Donegal and Mayo and Clare, families are really suffering for the last 10 years over this issue.”
Labour Senator Rebecca Moynihan also called for the €247,500 cap on the cost of homes to be increased.
“The Government need to seriously have a look at this. The cap might be too low and it must be extended to other places that are also affected by the mica,” Ms Moynihan added.
“This isn’t just homes for people, we are taking about schools, community centres, and this is part of a wider issue of construction defects and no proper inspection process in place for construction defects.
“If we don’t get a hold of this, we will have another pyrite scandal, we will have another mica scandal.
“We really need to investigate this and put in place a strong, robust inspection process for builders building homes that should be lasting a lot longer than the 10 or 20 years.
“Families should not be living in a place where they have to pay huge amounts after 10 or 20 years in order to make their home safe or be afraid to sleep in their house in case their house collapses on their children.”